UN: Atrocities fuelled by inaction on Arms Trade Treaty promises

Millions of people around the world will continue to suffer the deadly consequences of the poorly regulated global trade in weapons until many more governments take rapid steps to bring the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) into force, Amnesty International warned a year after the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the treaty. 

On 2 April 2013, a total of 155 states voted in the UN General Assembly to adopt the ATT and 118 states have since signed the treaty, indicating their willingness to eventually bring it into their national law. But 43 of the states that supported the adoption of the treaty last year have yet to take any action whatsoever (see list below). 

“Too many governments have been dragging their heels. The list of 43 absent signatures is mostly made up of countries where armed conflicts, violent repression and gun violence are more frequent, yet those states have the most to gain from the treaty. This is a major failure of political leadership,” said Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International. 

“Remarkably, Kenya, which was part of a group of states that originally called on the UN to back the ATT, has not even signed the treaty.” 

Although 17 of the European Union’s 28 member states will ratify the treaty at the UN on 2 April 2014, the total will still fall far short of the 50 ratifications needed for the treaty to enter into force. Up to now, only 13 states worldwide have ratified the ATT.

The ATT has a number of rules intended to enhance human rights protection for hundreds of millions of people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the proliferation and abuse of conventional arms. 

If implemented effectively and robustly, the ATT will stop the flow of weapons to countries when it is known they would be used to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Implementing the ATT strictly will also require states to assess the risk of transferring arms to another country: states have agreed the transfer will not go forward where there is an overriding risk the weapons could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law. 

Several countries – Spain, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Serbia, Iceland, Costa Rica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Trinidad and Tobago – have declared they will implement the treaty’s human rights provisions even before it enters into force.

However, Amnesty International is concerned that some states, including EU members, appear to be continuing arms transfers to countries where there is a clear risk they will be used for serious human rights violations and abuses.  For example, as recently as December 2013, the Czech Republic sent tens of thousands of firearms to Egypt’s security forces, who have killed hundreds of protesters during demonstrations following the military’s ousting of President Mohamed Morsi.

“If the EU states now ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty think they still have a licence to carry on doing business as usual by supplying deadly tools to persistent perpetrators of gross human rights violations, it will scupper  the effectiveness of the treaty from the outset,” said Brian Wood. 

Amnesty International will continue to campaign for all states to sign, ratify and rigorously implement the ATT. For the treaty to usher in a truly global regime to limit arms, the major arms producers who remain sceptical, like Canada, Israel and the USA, and arms importers such as Pakistan and Ukraine, will have to ratify along with all of the 43 countries dragging their feet. These states were among the 155 that voted to adopt the treaty at the UN last year. 

Major arms exporters China and Russia, who both abstained in last year’s vote, are expected by diplomats to sign the treaty once a large number of states have joined the ATT.   


At least 500,000 people die every year on average and millions more are displaced and abused as a result of armed violence and conflict.

Amnesty International has campaigned since the early 1990s to achieve robust, legally binding, global rules on international arms transfers to stem the flow of conventional arms and munitions that fuel atrocities and abuse. Millions of people around the world called on governments to agree a strong Arms Trade Treaty with robust rules to protect lives. 

Once it enters into force, the ATT will prohibit states from transferring conventional weapons to countries when they know those weapons would be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights abuses, including genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. All states parties will have to carry out objective assessments to avoid an overriding risk that an arms transfer would be used for serious human rights violations.

The treaty will enter into force 90 days after the 50th ratification. Amnesty International and its partners continue to push for all governments to sign, ratify and strictly implement the treaty as soon as possible.

States from every region in the world signed the ATT soon after it opened for signature on 3 June 2013, including four of the world’s major arms producers and exporters – France, Germany, the UK and the USA, which signed in September 2013. 

States that voted ‘yes’ to the ATT but have not yet signed or ratified (in total 43):

Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei Dar-Salam, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Georgia, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, San Marino, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and Ukraine.

States that have ratified the ATT at the time of writing (in total 31, including those expected to ratify on 2 April 2014, in bold): 

Albania, Bulgaria, Antigua and Barbuda, Costa Rica, CroatiaDenmarkEl SalvadorEstoniaFinlandFranceGermany, Grenada, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, IrelandItalyLatvia, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, RomaniaSlovakiaSloveniaSpain, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Trinidad and Tobago, and United Kingdom